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Helmcken Falls

Helmcken Falls, Canada
Helmcken Falls / Frank Kovalchek, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

WorldBlue  In short

One of the most beautiful waterfalls in Canada (and there is quite a competition!) is Helmcken Falls. White people learned about this 141 m tall waterfall just one century ago, in 1913.

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GPS coordinates
51.9540 N 120.1768 W
Location, address
North America, Canada, British Columbia, Wells Gray Provincial Park, some 40 km north from Clearwater
Total height
141 m (>156 m)
1 (2)
15 m, reaching up to 23 m
Average annual flow
57 m3/s
Maximum flow
425 m3/s
Murtle River

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail


Waterfall falls over the ledge of the Murtle plateau. This is a volcanic plateau in the Cariboo Mountains and consists of basalt. This area was volcanically active until fairly recent times and it is possible that the last eruption took place in 1550 AD.

Canyon of Helmcken Falls though was formed during the melting of ice shield some 10 thousand years ago, when arcane forces of meltwater stream formed Helmcken Canyon below the falls.

This part of Cariboo Mountains is very rich with waterfalls, even on Murtle River there are six other waterfalls besides Helmcken Falls.

Helmcken Falls in winter
Helmcken Falls in winter / Kantokano, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0


Before the coming of Europeans this area served as hunting grounds for Shuswap, Chilcotin and Canim Lake people.

White people explored this area in the 1870s, but it seems that Helmcken Falls were not noticed.

Waterfall itself was discovered on July 24, 1913, by Robert Henry Lee (1859 – 1935) – land surveyor for the British Columbia. He was overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of this landmark and proposed to call the falls McBride Falls – after the name of the Premier of British Columbia, Sir Richard McBride. Premier himself though asked to name the falls Helmcken Falls, after John Sebastian Helmcken who helped to bring British Columbia into Canadian Confederation in 1871.

Soon after the discovery of Helmcken Falls it was decided to protect the area around the falls. For a while nothing happened officially and only after prolonged campaigning by public organizations in 1938 – 1939 was established Wells Gray Provincial Park.


Waterfall looks beautiful and impressive in images but eyewitnesses tell that pictures do no justice to the real grandeur of Helmcken Falls.

Helmcken Falls - lower cascade is seen
Helmcken Falls – lower cascade is seen / Jason Hollinger, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Helmcken Falls have formed on Murtle River – large, powerful river which above the falls is some 60 m wide. Before the falls it becomes narrow and falls themselves are just 15 m wide (at high water – up to 23 m).

River falls into abyss – cliff here forms an overhang. Further below is another cascade, which is approximately 15 m tall. Thus, we can also consider that Helmcken Falls have 2 cascades and are at least 156 m tall.

Waterfall falls into narrow canyon which is orientated towards north-west. Due to this it is shady and cold, huge cone of ice and snow persists until the summer. In winter (especially in January – February) this ice cone can reach up to the half of the height of falls.

Among the advantages of this great waterfall are great view points. There are several pathways and tourists can see falls from different viewpoints.

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